Tumor of Cheese
At the Paris Air B&B they brought in some wine and little round-shaped tumors of cheese, a late afternoon something they couldn’t resist. Sweet little celestial orbs, she thought, trying not to remember the rattle of her mother's lungs or her final respirator. She tried not to think about the tumors her mother had been growing inside her like a garden of exotic mushrooms by the time they realized what was wrong.
She and Jack met on a vegetarian wine-lovers dating site not long after her mother died. In Paris most of the week they sat next to each other, eating bread and rock-hard yellow cheese off plastic plates and drinking red wine. She opened the window a crack and made a show of breathing in the outside air. She made a show of sucking it in. "Paris air," she said, “can you beat it?”
In the bathroom, with the door locked, letting the pee drip out, feeling it sting a bit, she thought about the uninhibited, very French sex she’d been having with Jack. She used to think businessy types like Jack were totally boorish. Now, she didn’t care. Often, she got up in the middle of the night to heat water for tea, and forgot how to turn on the teapot. Somehow this excited her. Motherless, she had landed on the moon.
Oddly enough, the scent of Jack’s semen reminded her of chicken broth, not the real kind her mother used to make, but the chemical stuff she bought in cubes at Safeway. Perhaps Jack was a secret carnivore. At the hospital, when she visited her mother, she’d caught the unlikely scent of chicken bones.
Somehow being in Paris with Jack made her eager to see the world new. Today they would visit the famous Paris zoo. Why not? It was as if in Paris she was able to value the love of a businessman, a species she hardly knew existed before. A species her mother had never trusted.
In the zoo, Jack led her from one imprisoned animal to another. Together, they whispered, deciding that zoos were immoral and should all be closed down and that it was wrong, wrong, wrong to imprison animals just so people could stare at them. Most of the smaller animals, the reptiles and the birds, seemed cooped up in glass boxes and aviaries. The larger animals disturbed her because of their eyes—eyes that let her know they knew she and Jack and the other people were there staring and that the animals had lost their freedom because of the human need to stare.
The apes filled her with a dread so deep she felt it seething in her bones. She could feel the apes’ anger and shame meeting frustration. Of all the animals, the apes resented human stares the most. Most of the males attempted to look away from her and the other humans, but one elderly female stood staring—staring at her. In that shared stare, they communicated nonverbally and what they communicated was how sorry she was and how wrong this was and that she was complicit and that they both knew. She was motherless, and this elderly female ape was a great grandmother and had been born in Africa. She was older than her mother hand been when her mother died, full of tumors in a teaching hospital where medical professionals came from all over the state to study her and stare at her in the room with glass walls.
After the zoo, they had reservations at an infamous restaurant known for serving the tenderest freshest meat in the world. “Normally, I’m a vegetarian, but this is the one place I eat meat,” said Jack. “I only allow myself to eat meat here—nowhere else in the world. Indulge me?”
Any meat ordered at this infamous restaurant was slaughtered in the dining room, in front of you, beside your table, and then butchered and cooked in the kitchen with glass walls so that everyone could see.
“I don’t know if I can go through with this,” she whispered. “It’s the cruelest meat in the world.”
“No,” he said. “It’s not. Would it surprise you to know how many eggs you have eaten that have come from hens living in cages so small they can’t even spread their wings?”
What were the cruelest foods she had ever eaten? She wondered, what were the foods too cruel to eat? It wasn’t what she was about to order and eat. It was a chicken nugget, she realized, or a simple hotdog. How American of her to be judgmental of French food when what she had eaten all her life was so much crueler.
“How about a goose?” Jack asked, pointing to the description of the goose on the menu.
According to the description, the goose had been free range and fed well, organic. It had lived a good life on a beautiful little pond on a goose farm with its family who would walk and run and fly and swim freely in the water. She realized its meat would be delicious, healthy, and taste divine, but it broke her heart.
“A nice roast goose?” asked Jack.
“Very well,” she said.
When they ordered the goose, they waited ten minutes for the animal to be presented.
The goose was large and white and well cared for and beautiful.
The chef led it out into the dining room by pushing it on a little cart where the goose sat, pristine.
When the chef allowed her to approach the goose, she looked the goose in the eye and thanked it for feeding her and told the goose it was beautiful. The goose looked into her eyes and seemed to listen, as if tame.
Jack told the chef that the animal was perfect, and the chef slit the goose’s throat in one swift smooth motion so the blood spurted onto the white cloth.